Philadelphia Weekly, April 14, 2004
STAGE : FOOTLIGHTS
Based on a true story, Villanova's production of Parade shows the fatal consequences
of ignorance and bigotry.
J. COOPER ROBB ( email@example.com )
Question: What do the White Stripes, Radiohead, Johann Sebastian Bach, Barbra
Streisand and composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown have in common?
Answer: Their albums are currently the top five sellers in Villanova on Amazon.com
If you're wondering who Jason Robert Brown is and what he's doing in such
elite company, hustle over to Vasey Hall on the Villanova University campus,
where Brown's spectacular musical Parade is playing in an unforgettable production
from Villanova Theatres.
Even better than the Philadelphia Theatre Company's marvelous production
of Brown's The Last Five Years , which captured last year's Barrymore for
outstanding musical, Villanova's Parade is like a spiritual stun gun that
awakens our humanity by displaying man's darkest impulses.
Smartly adapted by librettist Alfred Uhry from real events, Parade tells
the story of Leo Frank (Josh Sauerman in an intelligent portrayal), a Jewish
Yankee businessman accused of murdering 13-year-old Mary Phagan in his Atlanta
pencil factory. It doesn't matter that Frank is innocent of the murder--his
real crime isn't homicide. Rather, it's what Frank represents.
In post-Civil War Georgia, "The Old Red Hills of Home" ( Parade 's extraordinary
opening number, superbly sung here by Larry Cox Jr.) have become blackened
by the soot of the Yankee-owned factories, where the children of Atlanta
toil under slave-like conditions. And Frank--a persnickety little man who
detests his redneck neighbors--is the perfect scapegoat for the perceived
economic rape of Georgia's land and children by Northerners.
But Parade is far more than an involving historical drama with a glorious
book and score. At its heart is the relationship between Frank and his wife
Lucille (the excellent Nina Donze). Their love affair blossoms as their tragedy
In another production, this mix of drama and romance would be enough to keep
us happily entertained, but under Peter M. Donohue's astonishing direction,
Villanova's production is much, much more.
Creatively staged from the play's opening Memorial Day parade to the memorable
courtroom scene in which Donohue presents both sides of the case by having
the cast rotate themselves and the props 180 degrees, the production uses
the limitations of both the small space and the youthful cast to its advantage.
Dirk Durossette's two-tiered set emphatically represents the ravaged South
with nothing more than two raised porches, a tree and a row of factory windows.
Jerold R. Forsyth's atmospheric lighting turns prison cells into picnic
areas, and Janus Stefanowicz's authentic costumes are superbly detailed.
But it's the student cast that makes Parade so poignant. Passionate, innocent
and at times frighteningly barbaric, André N. Jones, Melissa Dryslewski
and Jason J. Michael are terrific in supporting roles, and newcomer Michael
Barr's intensely mournful rendition of "It Don't Make Sense" is emotionally
With all the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ
, it's perhaps fitting that Villanova, an Augustinian institution, has given
us a production that puts the Easter holiday in proper perspective. As a
religiously intolerant mob screams for Frank's death, one can't help but
recall the murder of another Jewish man on an ancient hillside in Calvary--and
how love can bloom from such intense hatred.
Parade Through April 25. $18-$22. Vasey Hall, Villanova University, Lancaster
and Ithan aves., Villanova. 610.519.7474. www.theatre.villanova.edu
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